Europa Universalis (Azure Wish)

 

Playings, 5 (20 + hours).

 

Europa Universalis is played at 3 levels, European Wars simulated as individual campaigns of a few years length, solitaire only re-creations of single nation's attempts at colonisation and the whole shebang of playing both systems at the same time except several players will be going for the colonial option as well. It is some consolation that the full game does not have to be played for 300 game years but is also split into 7 eras or distinct campaigns. Having spent considerable time on the game I failed to get further than the single map scenarios and 1 go as Spain Christianising the New World. The barrier to play of the full game is the sheer mass of rules that need digesting, few rules are complex in themselves but they all add up to a lot of pages to understand.

 

The playable parts of the game are the scenarios of European Wars. Some only represent a single battle and others are continent wide jobs that may be simpler than full campaigns but will not be taking up much less time. From experience the most suitable set ups are those that use at least 1/3rd of the European map, roughly 8 to choose from. The rules for these scenarios are presented together in a descrete section although it is not mentioned that many also use a few rules from the thick body of the rules book

 

Having got past the rules rather more preparation than usual is required, partly because the English translations of the rules and tables are not printed on the sort of paper that is going to survive a lot of handling. The charts need photocopying with just a hint of lightening in the toner to make them easier to see and to preserve the originals. The system makes great use of historical leaders who naturally vary in rating and come and go with time. All leaders are double sided usually with another leader form a different time period on the back. There is no master list for this lot and it would be wise to make one or write and ask for a copy of mine. With a master list it can be seen which leaders come and go on which turns without constant searching through the spare unit piles and missing leaders because they happen to be on the back of someone else. Most leaders are for the 6 major powers but nearly every nation has at least 1 named leader cropping up sometime between 1492 and 1792. These can be noted next to the minor country profiles in the data book. Another pre-game plan is brought about by the game using army and fleet counters which can be filled up with different numbers of ships and troops. These start the games with a certain value filled up and other counters may be available with time. It makes sense to write out a full list in pen of army and fleet counters plus what is in them for the start of a scenario. Changes can be made in pencil during play and the somewhat tatty original can be kept back for next time.

 

Having got sorted out and set up scenario play is straight forward but heavy on the book keeping. Generally revenue is fixed for the scenarios or loosely based on areas held, the terrifying full game revenue rules are not used. Everything is based on money and unlike in real life you cannot run at a defecit. Richlieu's France ran at a defecit as did England under Cornwall, in the full game of Europa Universalis players can run at a loss but pay the price with a full clutch of revenue, interest and inflation rules. Play is divided into turns and rounds, money and troops arrive at the beginning of turns and have to be spread around a variable number of rounds. At the end of every round a D10 is rolled with 0 counting as 10, if the score is less than the current round number then the turn will have no more rounds and a new turn begins. Naturally there is no point rolling on round 1 and no turn will have more than 11 rounds. Some scenarios have a minimum number of rounds on certain turns to prevent players setting up to re-create a war and then finding it never happens due to a series of 1 round turns.

 

Money is used to raise and maintain units and also to move them around. Countries may also receive some free reinforcements and free moves in addition to what they pay for. The trick is not to spend the whole budget on building up a military machine and then having no cash left to move it about. Each nation has a force list which lists the maximum size of fleets, armies and detachments (small fleets and armies) plus how much these cost to raise and maintain. This all varies with nation and time period but for a given scenario is likely to all come from 1 category and not change. A set number of counters are maintained for free all other troops must be paid for every turn, each counter has a maximum strength that cannot be exceeded. All these counters have a minimum strength of 1 and can be filled up by buying individual infantry, cavalry, artillery, combat ships, transport ships and galleys or by a bulk offer of a complete unit at a reduced price. For example France in 1615 to 1664 can maintain for free 1 1/2 armies, 1/2 a fleet and 3 detachments that may contain land or naval forces. The 1/2 counters can be deployed as flip side army and fleet counters or as 2 further detachments. There is also a limit to the number of new forces that can be purchased in 1 turn, France at the same time is limited to 40 naval, 30 infantry, 12 cavalry and 4 artillery factors, enough for a full army and 3 understrength land detachments plus a full fleet and a weak naval detachment. Double these numbers can be bought at double the cover price and up to maximum of triple the limits at 3 times cost, any units bought outside certain "home" provinces also cost double for a possible 6 fold increase in purchase cost. Costs depend on the technology of a state which is not likely to change during a scenario, new troops are classed as conscripts but if maintained after 1 year count as veterans with a bonus in combat. To keep track of this every counter needs a separate list of what is in it plus what is veteran or conscript.

 

France can buy a full army at "mousquet" technology for a basic 90 gold and maintain the same at veteran level for 30 but considerable reserves of cash must be held back for moving units. This is cost is called a campaign and must be paid every round. A passive campaign costs 10 and allows movement of any stacks in friendly territory and of exploration on the outside Europe map. 20 gold allows unlimited movement in friendly territory, explorations and the movement of 1 stack into enemy territory. Unlimited movement costs 100 gold, roughly as much as a new army. With an unknown number of rounds each turn, some turn's campaigns are going to be harder on the budget than others. The full 100 gold campaign is only really worthwhile as the first shot of a game, players generally stick to 1 offensive action per round and swop between invading stacks on different rounds. Scenario rules may allow some free campaigns for allied nations only otherwise the movement of an ally will count as moving a stack and any single round co-operation will require a 100 gold campaign. The upshot of all this is that a player who loses a lot of troops may have enough income at the beginning of a new round to raise nearly of them back but will only be left with enough gold to conduct limited defensive actions. Inexperienced spending can easily lose a scenario.

 

In each round players move units then initiate combat in time honoured tradition, 1 player finishing all actions before the next begins. The maps are divided into areas based on political units leading to some areas in Germany and Flanders being pretty small and others in Spain and the East noticeably larger. Army counters are large and leave no room to see the smaller areas when placed on them, it is helpful to blow up the centre of Europe with a colour photocopier to make movement easier. Some of the outside Europe areas are also too small for the colony counters but they will see less action and can survive in their original size. All European areas contain a fortress which can be built up in strength, fortresses can be assaulted at great cost or besieged with an increase in the chance of capture with each passing round, if the fortress has no damage by the end of a turn the besiegers are forced to retreat. Supply is based on fortresses, no unit can move more than 6 movement points from a friendly fortress plus an area with an enemy fortress can only be passed through if it is blocked up by leaving a force equal to the strength of the fortress in that area. When a fortress is finally taken it must be garrisoned up to its basic force level by the new owner, these forces can be bought again in the next turn but any advance will either tie up forces in besieging fortresses or having taken them in garrisoning the same. This leads to the actions familiar to Flanders as armies move from 1 siege to the next with battles fought around the relief of sieges. A good safe ploy is to keep armies 1 area back from the frontier fortresses as enemy will be weakened before it breaks through. The invading army can also be intercepted during its movement if required.

 

When combat occurs it is heavy on the maths but simple to follow, stacks can intercept or retreat before combat based on the manoeuvre ratings of the generals. All stacks that do not have a general draw a random general from their pool for combat, other generals are rated for rank with the highest ranking having to command most troops or ships. Nations have a maximum number of generals and admirals and if losses reduce these randomly chosen ? leaders are used to make up the numbers. These are not the same as the 1 use generals that are drawn for combats without a leader. Between turns generals must be re-deployed to ensure that rank relates to the size of force commanded, this can lead to generals acting like Napoleon and leaving the shattered old army to join the newly formed conscript recruits. All generals are rated for manoeuvre, fire and shock with the numbers printed in that order, 1st number used for manoeuvre before combat, 2nd used for fire being the 1st part of combat and the 3rd for melee. Some leaders also have an effect on sieges, Vauban for instance is handy in sieges but having a low rank will not be with a large force.

 

Having decided on combat both sides work out a morale level which is usually constant for a scenario but will be increased by 1 if 50% or more of troops are veterans. The strength of the force is then determined for fire and both sides roll a D10, a % of the strength is then inflicted on the enemy plus a possible morale loss. If the side's morale level is reduced to 0 combat ends with a freebie pursuit by the victor. If not combat goes to shock using the surviving combat forces although factors will be different, cavalry always counting as 2 in melee but 0 in shock until late in the time period when it rates 1/2. The maths involves counting up all forces involved at the correct ratios and working out some % multiplier, losses are rounded up to whole numbers easing the process a little. The same table is used for all combats but the column chosen depends on the difference in technology of both armies, this will rarely vary within a scenario. The die roll is modified by leader's ratings and terrain, even at the same technology the results can vary from nothing to 75% losses and a drop of 4 morale levels (which can break anybody). Battles can be random affairs and are not entered into lightly, large bad armies have the advantage that they can inflict good losses with only a small % result but they do tend to break quickly. Naval combat is similar enough to land not to require separate description. Fortresses can be assaulted using the same system with substantial boni to the defender or starved out (hopefully). Fortresses have an intrinsic strength which can be worn down by assault and can also shelter defending units. Putting armies in besieged cities may prevent their defeat in battle but increases the chance of the fortress being lost through siege. These defenders do not increase the firepower on defence of the fortress but do add to the number of defenders that must be removed to take the place. The defenders can of course sally out.

 

Attrition affects land units who move more than 6 points, naturally few do although movement costs are doubled outside Europe where it is hard to move less than 6 points with all non clear terrain being a base factor of 3. Units who are besieging at the end of a turn also have to suffer attrition even if they are also forced to retreat because the siege is no longer maintained. Naval units undergo attrition based on the risk level of sea zones they pass through or remained in if they did not move. Only naval units that remain in port are safe. Attrition rolls are modified buy the manoeuvre rating of the general in command and for land stacks moving can vary from 0 to 70% losses.

 

Moving on from the European campaigns 4 solitaire scenarios simulate Spain, Portugal, Holland and Russia as colonising powers. Most action occurs on the outside Europe map but the Europe map is need for some of the sea areas that fleets will pass through and as a holding area for units in Europe. Although a good number of the full rules are used a lot more are not notably the rules relating to control of minor powers and full revenue rules. These scenarios are similar the solitaire game of Conquistador with a single power trying to make a profit while fighting against natives and other European colonisations being based on random events. The games are very long and in the case of Spain I called it a halt when the minimum point level for victory had been reached. A number of special rules apply to the outside Europe map but in most cases the same system of rounds are followed. The need to stay within 6 movement points of a fortress makes movement pretty limited and the game is a lot better if movement is allowed with 6 movement points of an existing colony outside Europe. Otherwise colonies are going to have to be fortified soon after they are built and why have the free fortress with level 6 colonies? A rough look at the historical colony deployment for later scenarios indicates that this may be what the designer had in mind.

 

Colonisation and discovery is a lot harder than in Conquistador. A sea or land area is only counted as discovered when a member of the expedition gets back to a player's port. Discovery is related to movement and attrition but uses an alternate system, the stack moves into the unknown and a die is rolled based on how far the stack has gone. Certain areas such as the 2 Capes force a check and add to the die, the explorer's manoeuvre rating reduces the roll. The result may eliminate a portion of the force and will be successful or fail, if failed the stack goes back to where it began moving from but still suffers losses. To improve chances of success the stack must be under a high manoeuvre explorer or conquistador and head into port at regular intervals to gain credit for discoveries, a large number of discovery expeditions end up vanishing without trace. Due to the ranking of leaders the best explorers may not be in command of the largest forces and fleets need to be of a good size to soak up losses. Conquistadors do the same job on land but are subject to native attack. Conquistadors are no good without a few troops to back them up and any land forces in an area with natives will be attacked so the player will try to knock out a few natives 1st. Every area has a native level generally of pretty low technology, Conquistadors have 1 go on a table to win over some of these natives onto their sides and fight against the remainder. Without a decent roll on this table combat against strong natives such as the Aztecs is going to be tricky, good Conquistadors roll better so only the top notch boys are going to come back. Natives are reduced by combat results but will come back to full strength at the start of the next turn except for natives of America and Siberia (except Ohio and Amazon Indians) who are gone for good. If not wiped out straight away player stacks get a few goes to reduce the native levels in an area.

 

Having sent someone back to port to discover an area colonies and trading posts can be built up. These bring in cash and act as ports for bases of further exploring so are worth the trouble, they do however profit form an initial investment. Having experience of colony placement butt none of trading posts I will stick to colonies. These require an investment of 30, 50 or 100 gold and are helped by a conquistador in the same area, the result is die dependent but cannot be worse than nothing happening. The procedure is the same for improving an existing colony up to level 6, colonies 4 to 6 bring in more cash and level 6 counts as free fortress and improves the area's terrain to European levels. A colony action can be performed more than once during a single turn in each area but there is a limit to the total number of colony placement (and other similar actions) in a turn, this limit varies with time and player and may well be 0 or 1.

 

Colonies bring in money based on the income of an area which can be pretty low and the exploitation of local resources or gold mines. Gold mines are easy, you just sit there and collect the loot until they run dry. Gold can be physically sent back through a short chain of friendly colonies and sea lanes or will have to be loaded onto ships. Many resources require slaves to exploit them, slaves are a resource so a player will have to have colonies in areas that produce slaves as well as those producing tobacco, sugar and such. Slaves can be bought from other players or on the open market if suitable areas are not colonised.

 

Taken alone the exploration solitaire games give an impression of the full game play in that a number of actions are taken at the beginning of turns (income expenditure, colonisation) but are not used again during the following rounds. The period campaign games last from 6 to 8 turns meaning that a lot of rules concern actions that will only occur 6 to 8 times a game and the random number of rounds will greatly vary how much gets done in these games. The set limits to colonisation and similar endeavours will lead to some players making great use of the outside Europe rules and others hardly bothering. The 1492 scenario begins with most of the world ripe for colonising but later scenarios require a health warning that set up time can be considerable and initial income from all these endeavours requires working out before play starts. The 1492 initial income is thankfully provided.

 

If this product were not hefty enough an expansion provides another sheet of counters and new rules. There is no errata indicating that the game is perfect (I think not) or we are still on our own. A lot of the new counters are additional leaders, mainly for England and France. There is a new combat system which does cut down on the maths but all counters still have to keep a check of their exact composition before and after combat (not during it anymore). The old procedure is simpler to use if you can hack heavy duty multiplication's in your head or do not lose the calculator every time you put it down. I find it quicker to work out the result than find the calculator under the pile of charts and spare counters. Most useful is the final instructions on how to play the campaigns with less than 6 players. This is the most important part of the package and is loosely based on some major players being treated as minor powers either neutral or tied in alliance with player states. I can send a copy of these rules to any baffled fellow owners.

 

Looking at Europa Universalis as a whole it is a lot of money although not far short of Avalon Hill offerings, recent Commands seem as serious bargain in comparison. It describes itself as a cross between Conquistador and Empire in Arms however bear in mind that his is playing both games at the same time and it is certainly more complex than either. A better comparison would be Strategy I due to the scope and potential of the full game and its ability to simulate a lot of conflicts even if some of those conflicts are not really worth simulating at this scale. The European scenarios are playable but the full campaign requires a lot more effort than many owners will be prepared to put in.